Republishing Articles: Ethical Issues and Practical Considerations
Secondary publications, publishing translations and overlapping publications in academic research
Scholars put substantial time and effort into their research, therefore, a chance to make the most out of their efforts or to republish their original work can be very tempting. There are usually two ways scholars achieve this – by producing another publication based on the original one or by academic translation of the original publication into other languages. The rationale for such endeavors will vary with each individual scholar, based on their independent objectives and respective target audiences. However, before choosing to republish, scholars should always consider evaluating the contribution of their article to their academic field. It is worthwhile to consider what interests will be served, and if republication will truly disseminate the work to a wider network. Republishing is generally frowned upon in the academic world and furthermore, it involves several ethical and legal considerations. Once you have determined that you meet the necessary criteria, there are several ways to spread your research. This article is a guide to practical considerations and legal issues involved in republishing.
Acceptable and unacceptable cases of republishing
1.1 Secondary publications:
According to inScience Communications, “a primary publication is the first full report in a peer-reviewed journal of the primary outcomes of a study; secondary publications are additional reports of secondary or exploratory objectives, subgroup analyses, or post hoc analyses.” When it is in the interest of the research community, some journals allow republishing in the form of secondary publications. Some common reasons for secondary publication are:
- To publish by translating the article into different languages
- When data from large clinical trials and epidemiological studies cannot be published simultaneously
- To communicate results of a large research project to different audiences, in which case the discussion and conclusions will vary
- When data from the same study answer different and unrelated research questions
As translated articles are originally published elsewhere, they fall in the secondary publication category. In several cases, translating articles are justified. For instance, it is beneficial to translate and republish papers that focus on guidelines or standards issued by official authorities that should be communicated to a wide audience. Moreover, researchers may be tasked by their funding institutions to disseminate their research results in their native language, in addition to the original English version. In such cases, translating a primary publication helps promote and support the research culture and researchers in non-English speaking communities.
Article translation should be true and accurate translations of the original publications and as such authors should avoid making changes in the original content. Sometimes it might be unavoidable to make changes because of localization considerations. In such cases, footnotes could be used for additional pieces of information. However, if there are several changes in the very subject or the objective of the article, then it is preferable to try and publish it as a new publication.
1.2 Overlapping or redundant publications
The Committee on Publication Ethics describes overlapping publications as “when two (or more) articles report the same analysis of the same data set, or contain relatively small amounts of new data or alternative analyses compared with the original publication, particularly when this is done in such a way that reviewers/readers are unlikely to realize that some of the findings have been published before.” Overlapping is also considered as self-plagiarism. Overlapping is not widely encouraged as it causes the following issues:
- Wastes time of peer-reviewers and editors and resources in terms of journal pages
- Causes distortions in meta-analysis and academic reward system
- Inflates literature without any significant research contribution
- Misleads readers, specifically readers of medical and scientific journals, who rely on the originality of the published work
Ethical issues with republishing
There is a blurry line between acceptable secondary publications and overlapping or redundant publications. The flowchart here clarifies the differences and discrepancies between secondary and overlapping publications and how the Committee on Publication Ethics suggests authors deal with such publication issues.
What sets secondary and overlapping publications apart is the integrity and ethical standard of the article. Moral problems arise when some authors try to hide things. Not using proper citation, claiming a translation as an original work, and not informing the original publisher about the translations are among the chief unethical practices one can commit. These practices may lead to work being regarded as self-plagiarism and being retracted due to misconduct (see an example of such cases).
Thus, transparency is key. Both journals should be informed about the article being originally published elsewhere and how the secondary publication or translation will contribute to the academic community. The second journal should also be informed about the copyright clauses in the contract with the first journal. In short, both journals must accept the proposition of republishing the work. Furthermore, it is important to be transparent with readers about the source of the publication by clearly acknowledging the original publication.
Out of all the legal issues that surround republishing, the most important ones are the issues of copyright. Most journals require the data and findings to be original, mandate that the article not be published elsewhere and prohibit republication of articles. Thus, as the publishing journal legally owns the copyright, the first step is to understand their guidelines. For instance, Wiley Publishing clearly states that “dual publication is generally not permitted...there are narrow exceptions to the dual publication rule for some materials, such as standards.” In addition, several journals have laid out specific requirements for secondary publications. For instance, the International Committee of Medical Journals and Editors (ICMJE) has detailed the acceptable conditions of secondary publications. The ICMJE guidelines stress the importance of transparency in the second publication highlighting the primary publication to readers and peers.
Accreditation is another important legal issue which specifically arises with translation work. As the translated publication is merely a derivative work in another language, the author should only be credited once for their research achievement.
Elsevier’s factsheet on duplicate or simultaneous publications offers helpful advice for academic authors on how to avoid issues related to duplicate or secondary publications.
Here’s our key take away:
- Receive permission from the first journal and clearly mention the primary work to the target journal
- Always provide full citation and disclosure of your related work
- Opt for a translation credit instead of a creative credit
- Refrain from using your creative intuitions. Even if it is your own work, stay true to the original text while translating it
- If there are significant changes from the original article, it is better to publish it as a secondary publication rather than translation